Oh yeah, and a visit from God

A reader sent in this very good NPR story about Michael Morton, a man who was freed from a life sentence in prison for murdering his wife after 25 years. He was exonerated thanks to exculpatory DNA evidence. But the story is about much more than one of the many men who have been freed thanks to DNA evidence. Morton and his advocates want the people who withheld some of the evidence that would have cast doubt on his guilt held accountable. Here's a sample:

From the tip about the credit card to the man in the green van behind the Morton house to Eric's eyewitness account of his mother's murder — all of this evidence was withheld from both the judge in the case and the defense attorneys.

And so Morton didn't get to see Eric grow up. When Eric was 12, he stopped seeing his father in prison. When he was 18, he changed his last name from Morton. That broke his father's spirit. Fourteen years into his life sentence, Morton hit absolute bottom.

"The things that I was hanging on to in the world, and he was it. When that was gone, I just cratered," he says. "When you are completely without hope, when you are completely without any avenue of escape, when you're not sure of any reason to go on, I cried out to God. I said, 'OK, I'm done. I got nothing.' "

How was Morton finally freed? His wife's brother had found the bloody bandanna the police left later that day, and he turned it in. For years, Williamson County fought Morton's requests to have the evidence in his case tested. Prosecutors ridiculed his efforts and taunted him, saying they'd consider DNA testing the evidence only if Morton would first take responsibility for the crime.

Now, the reader who submitted the article also sent a link to this interview of Morton, by the same reporter.

You should read the original article (or, I guess, listen to it) and then listen to the second link, and then come back and read from here on out. At the end of the first piece, listeners are encouraged to go to the NPR web site and listen to the second link. I thought some of the comments to the audio of the second story are interesting:

Page Cvelich (Pagie) wrote:

I am always curious what gets left off the air. As I was listening to Mr. Simon's parting comment about an "emotional" situation that Mr. Morton experienced in his jail cell, I decided to go online suspecting that it was probably something spiritual. I was right. What I wonder about is why this was labeled "emotional" or why it was left out of the story. Does it cause shame or embarassment in some way? I think most folks these days are looking for a larger narrative to understand how to make sense of the craziness of this life. Just like in the book, Unbroken, when Zamparini (sp?) had a complete life change due to a religous conversion after being returned from WWII as a POW. Even my non-religious book club wonders why these parts of the story get pushed to the side or hidden in radio or TV interviews. As humans, we desperately need to hear a larger narrative. We can choose to believe or not, but give us that chance to make up our own minds. As the boy asked the insurance investigators at the end of Life of Pi, "Which is the better story?", let us be able to choose by providing the whole story.

Other listeners weighed in, too:

Catherine Montalbo (CatherineMontalbo) wrote:

Page, the first thought that leapt into my mind at the end of the story was, "Oh, they are leaving me hanging because they want me to go to the NPR web site." Well, it worked!

Athena Murphy (truepowersecret) wrote:

Page: In regards to your question, my guess, after hearing the separate audio, is that it was edited for time, not for any "spiritual" reasons. (I'd love to see an answer to my guess from the staff.)

Considering the length of Mr. Goodwyn's story, and the amount of facts they had to fit it to inform the listener, it makes sense that they cut out anything not "on the spine" of the narrative, knowing many of us would come to the website to listen. The original story is a deeply moving, fact-laden and intense listen. I think adding any additional emotion to it would have bogged it down.

When I heard the story on the air, I was emotional enough! I don't think I could have taken a whole lot more. This very poigniant moment for Mr. Morton had a presence and depth of its own, and if it was a choice of "cut it all together to fit the show timeline" or run it separately on the web, then I'm glad they chose to place it on the web.

I'm surprised that NPR gets slammed for editing spiritual content, given that it's one of the few media outlets around that has a full-time "religion correspondent" and airs many stories specifically about spirituality and religion.

patti lepre (patch19) wrote:

I too wished Mr Morton's visit from God would have been included as part of the story. It struck me odd that all it received was a "you can go to our website to hear about it blah blah..." Fantastic story, poor choice to omit such a vital piece.

They raise many interesting points. What did you think about the choice to separate out that powerful second audio from the original story?

Photo of jail cell via Shutterstock.

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